Illustration by Dave Cutler
As The Rotarian’s centennial year draws to a close, we decided to look back at some of our favorite columns from the magazine’s first century. Here you’ll find a brief sampling of our writers’ thoughts – some whimsical, some serious – on topics ranging from war to writing to walking.
What Is Business Honesty?
A Business Man
I am inclined to think there is more absolute honesty in business now than when I was a young man beginning life. In the field in which I began my career I am sure there is. In those days there were “tricks in all trades but ‘ours’,” and in “ours” there were always “customs” that were not considered dishonest by those in the trade.
One of the first things I learned was that the spice mill made and sold three grades of pepper and other spices. These were labeled “Pure,” “Strictly Pure,” and “Absolutely Pure,” and were sold at proportionately increasing prices. It should be evident that if a thing is “pure” nothing could be purer, but that was not applicable to ground condiments in those days. I do know that our “Pure” pepper had quite a little real pepper in it. The rest was what was known in the trade as “P.D.” What “P.D.” was I do not remember. I do remember that the steward of our local hotel came to us one day to see if he could not get some really pure pepper for use in his hotel kitchen, and we ground some for him with the result that the cook ruined an entire dinner. No one ever got pure pepper in those days and no one knew how to use it.
Football: Yesterday and Today
Walter Eckersall, sportswriter and former University of Chicago football player
When former President Woodrow Wilson helped to coach the Princeton football teams of the early eighties, and when former President Theodore Roosevelt saved the great intercollegiate game following the season of 1905 by calling to Washington leading gridiron authorities to warn them that it must be made less dangerous else he would take steps to have it abolished, little did they think their actions would lead to the development of a game which now commands such country-wide attention.
Family Versus Home
George S. Chappell, architect and satirist
As to style, who am I to dictate to the younger generation? When I see my son’s Oxford bags and plus-four knickers, his cuneiform sweaters and fringe-tongued brogues, my thought is not what the well-dressed youth will wear but what won’t he? ’Twas ever thus. How well I recall my own days of sartorial glory when I sported lemon-yellow shoes with toes like toothpicks and a skull cap with an eight-inch visor.
What’s the Matter with Our Young People?
Thomas Arkle Clark, dean of men, University of Illinois
No generation has ever seemed conventional or self-controlled by the previous one. We younger children took up cards and we learned to dance simple square dances and in time the more extreme and morally dangerous waltz. There was a good deal said about the waltz when it first came in. The morally fastidious lifted their eyebrows and talked in undertones behind their hands when they mentioned it. It was thought to be the most risqué social adventure upon which modern young people had yet ventured. We who assayed this new social pleasure were thought to be standing on very dangerous ground.
Why I Went to War
Harold R. Peat, Canadian soldier and author
I did not go to war for any idealistic motive. Later, yes, men joined in the world conflict for a very idealistic motive, but at the age of twenty, war to me was exactly what it had been at the age of twelve – high adventure and nothing more. The fact that war was considered dangerous made it just that much more alluring.
I did not go to war because I hated Germans. As a matter of fact, I only knew six Germans before the war, and I liked each one of them, which is rather more than I could say of any one nationality other than my own.
I did not go to war because I was a great patriot. I am still trying to find out what is true patriotism, and in my research I have come so far as to find out that patriots in war are those men and women who know definitely what the fight is about, the rights and wrongs of it – and still fight. I did not know what it was all about. I am satisfied that the average German, French, Russian, Italian, Austrian, or Turkish boy of 1914 had ideas just as chaotic as my own.
So I come back to my most definite reason for going to war – a trip, unbelievable – a free trip to Europe!
Laugh! Yes, we can laugh at such a situation, but when looked into, it is not a joke. It clearly shows the colossal tragedy of the mental and moral make-up of humanity at large.
Thirty Years of Looking Up
William Lyon Phelps, Yale professor
There is a professorial friend with whom I have a keen rivalry at golf. If I succeed in beating him, he suffers from a depression so profound that I am sorry for his family. I can hear him soliloquizing even when I fortunately cannot catch the exact words. His wife tells me she is usually sitting in an upper room looking out of the window when he returns to his house from a game of golf. He never has to tell her whether he has won or lost. As he steps out of the car in front of the house, she sees his face, and she knows.
Some years ago, he was so confident of beating me in a 36-hole match, that he offered to eat and swallow Tennyson’s poem, “Crossing the Bar,” if he were defeated. Why he selected this particular lyric I cannot say, except that it is a poem of death. Well, I defeated him; he left town immediately. But learning his address, I sent him a mutilated copy of Tennyson’s complete works, where many passages had been cut out, but where “Crossing the Bar” remained. It was a copy from which I had cut extracts to use on examination papers. I sent a covering letter with the volume, telling him he must eat his poem, and that the other missing poems had been eaten by other persons whom I had defeated.
André Maurois, French author
The best way to gain a true impression of any country is to stay in it for a long enough time to have absorbed something of it; above all to have mused and dreamed in it for a little while, doing nothing. A really cultured mind is formed, like a rich field under cultivation, by the deposits that the slowly succeeding years bring to it. So the traveler will have found more true culture by having seen a very few things well, than he could possibly have got by seeing a great many things hurriedly. No man can know the whole universe. The first motto of the tourist should be: Choose.
Gifford Pinchot, former governor of Pennsylvania, USA
A canoe is the most temperamental of all the craft that float. If it knows you and likes you, well. It will do anything for you, go anywhere with you, and ride out a sea that looks like sudden death. It will refuse to upset under the most aggravated provocations, will let you climb in again out of deep water if for any reason that might seem desirable, and will open to you more waterways to happiness than all the yachts of all the millionaires.
But there’s nothing more sensitive than a canoe, and never let yourself forget it. Any evidence of ill temper on your part it will instantly recognize and resent. Never speak harshly to your canoe, lest the next minute find you swimming. Address it urbanely and with deliberation, and it will eat out of your hand. Rub it, as it were, gently between the ears, scratch it beneath the chin, keep your feet in the middle, and it will purr through the water like a kitten under a stove.
But the canoe with a hostile disposition, or even the canoe that feels a little strange – from all such deliver us. If you cannot sell it or give it away, then take your courage in both hands and use an axe. There is nothing in this world more prejudiced than a prejudiced canoe, and nothing that holds a grudge longer. If it does not get you today, it will tomorrow. Therefore beware. As the ancient Romans used to say: Cave canoem.
The Larger Selfishness
George E. Vincent, American sociologist
Sometimes when I am in Chicago, people say disrespectful things about New York not really belonging to the United States, and I find my New York sense of self bridling a little, my loyalty to that great metropolis and its surrounding country resenting a little the implication that it is not a thoroughly good American ground.
And then sometimes when I am in New York, some of my friends, some of whom have not crossed the Hudson River (now that they can fly, of course, they go to California without stopping anywhere), say disrespectful things about Chicago and the Middle West. Then I find my Chicago loyalty coming to the surface.
Then, of course, there is the sense of the country where one belongs and in connection with that there is what is called a consciousness of patriotism. And there are a few rare souls whose sense of self goes out beyond national boundaries, who think of their fellows in other countries, who imagine something that is called all mankind.
These are days when the dangers of prejudice, the dangers of intolerance, the dangers of group antagonisms of various kinds, have to be overcome. Not by great movements of propaganda. It can be only as you and I day by day in our lives refuse to limit our interests, our loyalties, to narrow groups with which we may be intimately associated. We must struggle day by day to look at life through the eyes of other people.
Life in Wartime Britain
Ivor Brown, British journalist
The last war saw a great broadening of moral standards. This one started with those standards so elastic that no further expansion was needed or possible.
We’re Getting Along
Lloyd C. Douglas, American minister and novelist
The world is in a muddle. There is no new sensation. The world has always been in a muddle. The muddle is simply more apparent than ever before. We know more about it. Improved processes of communication have multiplied a thousandfold, for every man, the sins and shames of all humanity. At present there is no grief, no greed, no guile anywhere on earth that we do not know about – hour by hour. The world is doomed! Stay tuned to this station!
Do you think you would have had any more fun, you readers in Wisconsin and Ontario and New South Wales, if you had lived a century or two ago – without roads, lights, books, and doctors, and with the woods full of angry animals; your whole life spent in the dark and the danger? Perhaps you readers in Massachusetts would have enjoyed coming over in the Mayflower. A lot of people did come over in the Mayflower. Would you folks there in Kentucky have found life more pleasant if you had lived during the War Between the States?
Every era has its own pains and perplexities. That’s the kind of world we’re in. And yet, this world has its good points. Many days are fair. Many families are happy. Many friends are true. Some employers are considerate. Some employees are loyal. Some parents are kind and understanding. Some children are obedient and affectionate. Most people – if given a chance – would live in peace with their neighbors, at home and abroad.
Television – You Can Have It
Charles L. Sherman, American humorist
Our television set arrived last Christmas as a present and the two huge cartons remained in our living room unpacked for a week before the engineers came to erect it.
With the short-pants crowd glued to that set three or four nights a week, my wife and I are forced to read in bed or take long rides in the evening to escape the bedlam. True, the children stay home instead of wandering the streets at night, but at the expense of my nerves, peace of mind, and pocketbook. Our milk bill has doubled and the hole these youngsters leave in the icebox is a gaping tribute to television.
Take Along an Open Heart
Jean Shor, National Geographic travel writer
Wherever you go, go with an open heart. The ordinary traveller may never meet the Pushto tribesman who shared his sheepskin robe with us on a cold night in the mountains near the Khyber Pass, or the Chakma tribesman in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of East Bengal who paddled us 15 miles up the Kassalong River after our own dugout swamped and sank in the rapids. But the French baker, the Swiss cheese maker, or the Italian glass blower will be as anxious to help, to introduce you to his way of life, to return your smile with a smile and your handclasp with one equally warm.
Americans, You Are Not Easy to Understand
R.L. Bruckberger, French priest and author
Americans, you know how to defend yourselves in war. Why are you so inept in peace? You win wars, yet you lose revolutions. In this modern era, however, revolution conquers more surely than war. War can win territory. But revolution, when it wins territory, wins hearts as well. Russia has mastered the art of revolution. It has succeeded, on the one hand, in identifying communism in the minds of the poor and underprivileged with an industrial progress available to the most backward peoples and with immediate victory over poverty, while, on the other hand, it has succeeded in identifying America with capitalism and all its past but unforgotten and heinous crimes, with war, with imperialism, with the systematic exploitation of the poor by the rich.
Robertson Davies, Canadian playwright and great walker
There is no special virtue in walking in the country, or even out of doors. I like a country walk, now and then, but unless you can find a quiet road, your life will be made a misery by people wanting to give you lifts. One should walk where one’s interests are; my pedometer tells me that I take my longest walks in cities. I am a lifelong people watcher and museum haunter, and when I am in New York or London I manage ten miles a day without noticing it. It is not only more amusing, but frequently quicker, to walk any distance under two miles; it offers variety and delightful discovery, and spares one the necessity of listening to the passion-warbled plaint of the taxi driver, who has been driven to paranoia by his sedentary occupation.
The Dilemmas of Modern Man
Sydney J. Harris, American journalist
The U.S. economy and social order over the past 40 years is an interesting example of holding in tension – and in quite good tension, I think – the polarities of individualism and collectivism. As Frederick Lewis Allen, the historian, remarked two decades ago, “America is not moving toward socialism – it is moving beyond socialism.” What he meant is that we are evolving a peculiarly “mixed economy.” The American social and economic structure does not fit into any doctrinaire classification; it is a combination of many trends and tendencies, some of them capitalistic, some of them collective. Marx and Engels, as you know, predicted that capitalism would eventually fall of its own weight, because of its inescapable “internal contradictions.” But their prophecy has so far proved false – because, it would seem, capitalism has had enough resiliency, enough responsiveness, to adapt itself to changing conditions; and, indeed, to learn something from the noncapitalistic orders. We might even say that the small doses of socialism we have given ourselves have acted as an effective vaccine against the virus of communism.
Taking 80 Years to Reach 60
Alex Comfort, British biologist and writer
The old mythology of infectious diseases was that they were a part of the natural order; caused by bad air; God’s way of recruiting cherubs from among unusually attractive children; a burden sent to try us; et cetera, et cetera. The modern mythology of age, by which aged people are today obliged to live – and quite often die – is that aging is “natural” and there is nothing we can do about controlling it (it would be impious or dangerous if we did); that old people (meaning persons over 65) are feeble, captious, asexual, unemployable, and often soft in the head; and that we personally needn’t bother about this because we shall never grow old ourselves.
Escape the Jargon Trap
William Zinsser, writer, editor, and critic
Just because a person works for an institution, he doesn’t have to write like one. Institutions can be warmed up. Administrators and executives can be turned into human beings. Information can be imparted clearly and without pompous verbosity. It’s a question of remembering that readers identify with people, not with abstractions like “profitability,” or with Latinate nouns like “utilization” and “implementation,” or with passive-verb constructions in which nobody can be visualized doing something: “pre-feasibility studies are in the paperwork stage.”
There is a yearning for human contact and a resentment of bombast. Any institution that won’t take the trouble in its writing to be both clear and personal will lose friends, customers, and money. Let me put it another way for business executives: a shortfall will be experienced in anticipated profitability.
Give and Take
Frank Bures, American writer
Negotiating the gift-giving intricacies of a new culture can be unsettling, because you don’t know what is expected or what is owed. I got a taste of this when I lived in Tanzania, where people I barely knew asked me for all sorts of things.
Can I have this book? Can I have this backpack? I kept a list of everything I was asked for – shoes, bicycles, motorcycles, cars, pens, radios, tuition, sweaters, airfare to America, a girlfriend/fiancée from America, money for seeds, bags of cement, my glasses, the watch off my wrist, the food I was eating, “anything I might have.”